Rations That Are Actually Tasty

For decades, rations have been the butt of every joke.

Movies made fun of them, and cartoons painted a pretty ugly picture, too.

How do modern rations compare to those of yesteryear? The Early Show sent Correspondent Melinda Murphy to find out.

Today's ration of choice are Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), developed in the sleepy little Massachusetts town of Natick.

In the Department of Defense's combat feeding kitchen, folks in white lab coats spend their days thinking about nothing but what it takes to tickle a soldier's palate.

"If a war fighter isn't happy with what he or she is getting in a foxhole, they can't very well hop up and run to a convenience store," says Jerry Darsch, the Department of Defense combat director.

MREs are put in a 100 degree F storage room to make sure they'll hold up to extreme temperature. And there are many other tests.

"We throw them out of airplanes at 2000 feet plus with a parachute," explains Darsch. "We throw them out of helicopters at a hundred feet with no parachute."

Today, MREs are easy to prepare.

"If you can heat 'them up, they're always going to be better," says Darsch.

You just put each entrée into a pouch with one ounce of water. A chemical reaction causes the temperature of the entrée to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 12 minutes.

But, the real test comes in the taste. Melinda Murphy tried a few dishes. First on the plate was seafood jambalaya.

"As I took that bite, I feared for the worst," says Murphy. "Boy, was I surprised. It was pretty good."

Murphy decided to try all the meals Darsch had ready for her, such as hearty clam chowder, veggie griller with barbeque sauce, pot roast with vegetables, Swedish meatballs, salmon in a delicate butter sauce, Mexican macaroni and cheese and even the Kreamsicle cookie.

"But I'm not too picky, so we headed to the Natick Mall for some more opinions," says Murphy.

How would the real New Englanders rate Murphy's favorite MRE, the clam chowder?

"This is the best clam chowder I've ever had," says Cameron, a fourth-grade student. She gave it a six out of a possible five.

The other testers tasted five different meals.

Some liked the MREs.

"I liked it. I'm not a big fan of Mexican of any type, but I could eat this," says salesperson Jim Lemieux.

Others weren't too enthusiastic. "Not good," says sales manager Siobhan Jordan.

But overall, they gave an average rating of four out of five.

"As far as pot roast goes, it's great, tender, tastes just like homemade, just like I would make myself," says health inspector Richard Weschrob.

But, how would one of the top chefs in Boston rate MREs? Murphy asked Ed Gannon from the Four Season to give them a try.

Of course MREs look better the way Gannon serves them, but the taste is exactly the same.

"It's fork tender, which is a good start," says Gannon. "Not mom's, but it's pretty darn good."

Gannon gave the three dishes he tried a surprising five out of five rating.

But the real test came when Murphy met Eddy Cutler. Cutler served in WWII and even stormed Normandy on D-Day. He remembers the old K-rations.

He says the MREs are better than the food he had during his service in the war.

"I don't think troops are very lucky at all when they have to go [to war]," says Cutler. "But as far as the food is concerned, this is better food than we ever had before."